Variable climate warrants rethink on grain and food security

Variable climate warrants rethink on grain and food security


In this week's The Gauge, Troy Setter says climate variability may mean we need to start discussing grain and food security in Australia.


The Gauge | Opinion 

This devastating fire season, which has seen many communities and fire fighters battling against extreme conditions for months, has reignited the debate about the human contribution to a changing climate.

This latest debate has again seen widely diverse views argued with passion; some informed by science some not.

To date more than 30 people have died and thousands of homes were razed to the ground during the devastating fires.

The brutal reality of a drier, hotter climate.

The consequences of changing weather patterns can be both immediate and destructive as we have seen this summer.

Climate variability is also undermining agricultural production systems in some regions and creating opportunities in other regions.

The farming community in Australia has been adapting to the consequences of variable rain and increasing temperatures for decades but the intensity of those changes is increasing and the required response more complex.

At a grain forum organised by the Federal Department of Agriculture at the end of last year, one presenter used three slides to illustrate the climate challenge facing Australia's grain growers.

The first slide identified the major grain growing regions across the country, the second slide identified the regions most likely to experience rising average temperatures and the third slide identified regions likely to experience declining rainfall.

The three slides were close to a perfect match.

All that means declining grain production, assuming grain growers and Australia's world class research community are unable to adapt production systems to higher temperatures and less water, declining export earnings and supply challenges for Australia's large and growing intensive livestock sector.

Any disruption to feed grain supply would have a dramatic impact on intensive livestock production and the regional economies that depend on it.

Nationally, the beef industry accounts for around 25 percent of grain consumed by livestock industries.

In 2017-18, nationally the industry consumed 3.9 million tonnes of grain. In Queensland that number was 2.2 million tonnes with over 50 percent of cattle in that state grain finished.

Variable rainfall and rising temperatures in Australia's grain growing regions will require major feed grain users to factor in imported grain to supplement domestic supplies.

In order to be a consistent supplier of beef we need a consistent and competitive supply of inputs.

But imported grain also presents significant challenges.

Large scale grain imports will require major upgrades to port handling infrastructure.

Imports also pose major biosecurity risks such as the introduction of pests and diseases into production systems.

Better reporting systems for grain stocks are a key to ensuring security of feed grain supply

Just as the recent fires demanded a coordinated response by all levels of government, communities and households so too will this threat to our major food production systems.

A good start would be for state and federal agriculture ministers to start a conversation about grain security and food security at their Ministerial Council meeting later this month.

Troy Setter

Troy Setter

They could talk about strengthening the integrity and improving the administrative efficiency of grain import protocols to both reduce the disease risk and lower administrative costs.

They could look to assess opportunities for more intensive grain production, enhanced storage capacity and more efficient use of port handling infrastructure.

They could commit to rather than just talking about the development of Northern Australia where this is significant opportunities for increased grain production and where rain fall is predicted to increase.

The climate debate is important but we also need to get on with the job of responding to it. There is no time to waste.

- Troy Setter is the CEO of the Consolidated Pastoral Company and the chairman of LiveCorp.

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